It's a little hard to get excited about a restaurant group. Like when a car commercial boasts that a mid-size sedan is the "best in its segment," it's a bit too dry of a concept to really give anyone goosebumps. San Francisco has some good ones — Mercer Restaurant Group operates AQ, Fénix, and The Hall, while Ne Timeas runs Salumeria, flour + water, and Aatxe — but it's Hi Neighbor Hospitality Group that puts a stamp on its restaurants.
Neither a collection of random properties nor a soulless brand, the trio of Fat Angel, Stones Throw, and Trestle emerged over the past couple of years as a player in a very savvy niche: the upscale-casual restaurant. Trestle, in North Beach, scored the most attention for its how-do-they-do-it, three-course $35 prix fixe, but The Fillmore's Fat Angel has been packed every time I've gone in. Russian Hill's Stones Throw is arguably the fanciest of the lot, but Trestle has aspirations. It threw a $175, four-course Forest Feast at Outside Lands that included wine pairings and live entertainment beyond the festival's own lineup.
Hi Neighbor's newest, Corridor, turns that turkey into a four-bagger. It's technically a two-part affair on the ground floor of the recently re-skinned mid-rise at 100 Van Ness, with the coffee-breakfast-and-sandwich Corridor Cafe having opened several months earlier. Virtually everything is affordable — rare is the item that crosses the $20 frontier — and few ingredients require a hunt in the dictionary. Flavors go big and avoid subtlety, and while there's technique in the preparation and thought behind the presentation, there's little mystery. It's good, approachable food, and — this being high summer — there's a judicious use of top-notch produce.
It's fun to alternate between nature's bounty and things that are straight-up bad for you, and that contrast is one of Corridor's strengths. If the tomato and burrata salad with pistachio pesto, quinoa, and brioche croutons was constructed around colors on the plate and not the taste of the heirloom tomatoes, you'd likely never know it. Then again, the lightly cheddary monkey bread ($6) — a cake-like appetizer that bears no resemblance to the ripped-apart Grands! biscuits rolled in cinnamon and sugar I made on snow days as a kid — is a great entry point into Corridor's ethos, although you hardly need the basil aioli.
Playful textures abound: Croutons add a soft, fuzzy crunch to the spicy meatballs ($10), and the crispy falafel croquettes ($9) were softer and moister than the name implies, with no outer crust. And while some of the "Square Meals" could be construed as humdrum or insufficiently sexy, the pan-roasted salmon over couscous and summer squash ($21) and the half roast chicken ($19) are comfort foods to the core. Layered over broccolini and a fat scoop of garlicky mashed potatoes, the chicken was just the right size, wholly unlike those broiler monstrosities that grow at the rate of an inflatable mattress. Plus, Corridor's side dishes are fully formed thoughts. A plate of multicolored carrots roasted in espresso oil and drizzled with almond pesto ($6) combined sweetness with piquancy in equal measure, and the corn on the cob with vadouvan butter and lime zest ($6) was better than any elote I've had in a while.
But I really gravitated toward the pastas. My second-favorite dish, the garganelli bolognese ($16) was an eggier penne in a thick ragù that would have been the exemplar of rustic simplicity if it didn't have a blob of burrata in the center. (Smart move, though.) My favorite was the English pea risotto ($15). Usually a smothering blanket and a one-pot dinner, Corridor's version adds enough citrusy brightness to the earthy maitakes and the crunch of the pea pods to lighten it without thinning it. There's black truffle butter in there, but not too much.
That's worth noting, because if Corridor has a weakness, it's for frequently adding more where less would do. Take the duck confit ($16): Although the almonds were a nice addition, it managed to be overdressed and under-seasoned, slathered in peach vinaigrette and duck egg when simple salt and pepper would suffice. Subtract any one existing element and it'd be better. Even the comparatively spare salmon had a sauce on the fish, a pounded hummus under the couscous, and a finishing oil.
The burger ($15) — or Da Burga, in house parlance — is the biggest culprit: I like a fatty patty, but when it's so juicy and slathered in condiments that the bottom bun is soaked through upon arrival, it's a lot less appetizing. Although Da Burga comes straight from Stones Throw, overall it's as if Corridor took Trestle's mantra and modified it, so that instead of offering a narrow range of impeccable options at an impossible-sounding price, it opted for experimenting with how much they could pile on and still keep costs down.
In the aggregate, it's not a bad gamble, and there's redemption even when things don't altogether succeed: The burger's fries, which looked wan and underdone upon arriving, were not only perfectly fried but retained their crispness even as they cooled (plus the whole shebang goes well with a glass of the lager that pours from an iced tap). And you will always feel like you're getting what you pay for. A half roast chicken for under $20 is like a two-bedroom apartment for less than $3,000.
One can't help but compare Corridor to the recent series of Market Street flameouts like Cadence and Oro. I don't want to make specific predictions about the future, but while I'm sure management is nervous about such events, Corridor has a likeability factor those other eateries did not. It lacks the hubris that helped sink the "Bye, Neighbor" restaurant group, and it doesn't wheeze sawdust like some of the places that cater to opera and symphony patrons, either. A little paring down and I think this restaurant will join the rest of the Hi Neighbor spots as a neighborhood staple. Two blocks away from the corridors of power at City Hall, it's likely that San Francisco will soon appreciate the powers of Corridor.